WASHINGTON — In the aftermath of the Jan. 6 insurrection, some of the country’s biggest law firms joined blue-chip corporations and other industry trade groups by halting all political donations and rethinking their giving strategy altogether. In a few cases, law firms vowed they wouldn’t give money to any of the 147 Republican officeholders who had voted against certifying President-elect Joe Biden’s 2020 election victory, riding the wave of good publicity by coming out strongly against the politicians who’d threatened American democracy.
But Big Law’s principled stand didn’t last a year.
Major law firms in Washington have resumed donations to those Republicans whose support for election-fraud theories and refusal to certify posed a grave threat to American democracy. According to a review of campaign-finance records by Rolling Stone and the clean-government groups Protect Democracy and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), more than two-dozen major law firms have donated nearly $500,000 to members of the so-called Sedition Caucus, referring to the 147 Republican officeholders who voted to overturn Joe Biden’s 2020 election victory, or to party committees that take large donations and spend those funds solely to reelect Republican politicians.
The law firms in question made the donations through their in-house political action committees. Those PACs, which employees can contribute to, allow the firm to donate to a candidate’s campaign, a party-wide political committee, or a leadership committee that prominent politicians use to raise money that they can later spend to help reelect their friends and allies.
Campaign finance experts say the firms’ decision to resume giving illustrate the hollowness of their original pledge to freeze or reassess their giving. It’s also a reflection of a broken and money-rotted political system, in which companies and law firms with business before the government use campaign donations to buy access to policymakers.
“Law firms, especially these big high-powered firms in and around D.C., play a critical role in the fundraising system here,” says Robert Maguire, research director for CREW. “It seems from the outside that these firms feel like they can’t stop giving, in the same way some of the companies themselves feel like they can’t stop giving, because it’s what gives them a seat at the table. And if you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.”
Covington & Burling, a firm with extensive ties to the Biden administration, said it would undertake “a comprehensive review of [its] political contributions and policies.” Akin Gump announced that its PAC “will certainly consider the riotous events in Washington, D.C., and the false rhetoric questioning the legitimacy of the recent elections as part of a broad array of factors when determining our PAC giving priorities.” Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck said it would reassess its donation policy “to ensure that they reflect our firm’s values.” Cozen O’Connor pledged to withhold all donations to the 147 Republicans of the “Sedition Caucus.”
They weren’t alone in reacting swiftly to the events of Jan. 6. Major corporations and their lobbying front groups in Washington called the insurrection “appalling,” an “assault on our democracy,” and “an attack on all those things that people cherish and associate with America.” Numerous major corporations from Pfizer to Chevron made pledges to freeze financial contributions to the House and Senate Republicans who had voted against certifying Biden’s election, many of them citing vague or baseless claims of election fraud. But by the fall of this year, those corporations have resumed donations to members of the so-called Sedition Caucus as well as party committees that work to reelect Republican members.
Now, the same pattern is playing out with Big Law.
The biggest law-firm donor to Republicans voted against Biden’s certification and to GOP party committees appears to be Holland and Knight, a firm with 1,600 employees across 40 countries. In response to the Jan. 6 insurrection and the attempt to overturn Biden’s election victory, the firm said it was freezing all federal donations. Federal campaign records show the firm has given $30,000 to the two leading Republican party committees, which offer an indirect avenue to support those same officeholders who opposed Biden’s certification. The firm has also directly donated $16,500 to multiple members who voted against certifying Biden’s election. (The firm did not respond to a request for comment.)
Hogan Lovells, a powerful firm that counts such influential Democratic-aligned litigators among its partners as former Obama acting solicitor general Neal Katyal, donated $30,000 to GOP party committees, records show — the firm’s only party committee donations so far in the 2022 election cycle. “While we paused PAC donations earlier this year, as a bi-partisan firm, we have resumed PAC donations to party committees on both sides of the aisle to represent the collective needs of our clients,” Ivan Zapien, the head of government relations and public affairs for Hogan Lovells, said in a statement to Rolling Stone.
McGuireWoods, which hosted an event last summer during which civil-right leaders described the Jan. 6 insurrection as a “failed coup d’etat,” has donated $10,000 to Republican party committees and another $4,500 to Sedition Caucus members, according to campaign records. (McGuireWoods did not respond to a request for comment.)
Cozen O’Connor, a firm that counts liberal activist group MoveOn among its clients, announced after the insurrection it would halt donations to the 147 Republicans who voted against certification. Yet the firm has donated $30,000 to the two main Republican party committees. (Cozen did not respond to a request for comment.)
Fred Wertheimer, president of the clean-government group Democracy 21, says it’s “perfectly predictable” that law firms, just like big corporations, reverted back to donating to lawmakers who’d imperiled democracy and to the political committees that back those politicians. “It’s all because of the role that money plays in the political process,” Wertheimer says. “Donating gets them access to officeholders, and they need that access to serve their clients.”
Wertheimer added that Big Law’s Sedition Caucus funding was as much a condemnation of our money-soaked political system than of the firms themselves. “It’s only partially their fault,” he says. “Congress has created a system where they’ve told people, ‘You want access? You want influence? It take money.’
“It’s a symbiotic relationship inside a corrupt system,” Wertheimer adds. “Both sides play the game.”